The term "outside linebacker" is not universal to every scheme. For example, an outisde linebacker may be restricted to a 4-3 defensive scheme, while another is restricted to a 3-4 scheme based on their strengths and weaknesses. Schemes aside, this year's class sports a number of talented linebackers that will find a home in the NFL for years to come.
1. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
Athletically, Attaochu is at the top of the class. He is strong and explosive, both off the snap and in tight spaces, as well as generally fast when flowing across the field. Although his most useful fit is as a 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker, he does not seem restricted from being a wide-nine pass rushing defensive end or even a linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He is a bit raw, but can be molded to fit any need, being that he is incredibly versatile.
2. Telvin Smith, Florida State
There is chatter than Smith should move to safety because he is a bit undersized, but nonetheless, he is a superb, well-rounded linebacker. Despite size concerns, he does play down to his size. Smith is a strong, physical linebacker that can shed blocks like the best of them. He can play a tad reckless in space, but as a coverage linebacker, he is arguably the best in the class. At the next level, Smith is a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.
3. Marcus Smith, Louisville
Much like the North’s Jeremiah Attaochu, Marcus Smith is plays with immense power as a 3-4 outside linebacker. His strength is complimented well by his fluidity and flexibility as a pass rusher, although, he is not limited to pass rushing. He is an every down player that can handle anything asked of him. He is strictly a 3-4 outside linebacker, but an outstanding one, at that.
4. Kyle Van Noy, BYU
While he is quite talented, as of now, Kyle Van Noy does not have a true fit as a linebacker. In fairness, he can certainly be molded as so, but he is too underweight to play and dominate as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Regardless, he will be a weapon as a 4-3 outside linebacker and is most suited to play the role of the strong side linebacker.
5. Michael Sam, Missouri
Unlike most of his fellow linebackers, Sam is restricted. He is solely a pass rushing 3-4 outside linebacker because he does not have the other skills needed to be a true linebacker. Although, as a 3-4 linebacker, he can function in space and create explosive plays at a moment’s notice. In the sense that Sam takes advantage of what is given, he is comparable to current Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones and will be used similarly.
6. Adrian Hubbard, Alabama
Although he appears to be restricted to being a 3-4 outside linebacker, Hubbard is not an outstanding pass rusher. Hubbard, much like Rob Ninkovich (not saying Hubbard is that good), would be used as a dominant run stopping edge force. At the point of attack, Hubbard is stout and takes on blocks well. Unfortunately, Hubbard lacks effort at times and it costs him. If a fire can be lit inside of him, he could be a useful run defender on the edge.
7. Christian Kirksey, Iowa
Coming from Iowa, Kirksey has gone underappreciated all year. He shows enough range to be able to adequately cover the field, yet also shows physicality and dominance when handling blocks. Kirksey understands how to use his length to create space for himself and attack ball carriers. At the next level, he is best suited to play strongside linebacker.
8. Jordan Tripp, Montana
Tripp is the only non-FBS outside linebacker and that alone is impressive. Tripp shows range and fluidity across the field, but lacks explosion and quickness. When taking on blocks, he often fails to win the battle and understand how to handle the block. Tripp is raw in coverage, making him a project weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, but he lacks the overall athleticism to handle strongside linebacker responsibilities
9. Jonathan Brown, Illinois
The three-year starter has put together a respectable career in the B1G. Brown flashes instinctiveness and the ability to pounce on what is given, but does not create much for himself. In space and when changing direction, he is rather sluggish. In his early days, he showed decent enough range to be a starting weakside or middle linebacker, but he did not carry that with him for his entire career. Granted, he has battled injuries, but it is still a concern.